The glorious overlap for college sports that envelops the weeks of late October and early November is my favorite part of the year.
Football season is in high gear, preparing for stretch runs that will determine championships, bowl invites and coaching vacancies. And the Hogs, for the first time in a while, have something for which to finish strong. Basketball season is tipping off, this year in Arkansas amid high expectations — the highest maybe in a quarter century — following last spring’s encapsulating Elite Eight run.
A fall Saturday afternoon in Razorback Stadium followed by a Tuesday evening tip in Bud Walton? Yes, please.
Football drives the college sports bus, as we all know, but basketball is big, too. In 2019, the NCAA made $1 billion off March Madness (the sole reason it still has anything to do with Power 5 schools), according to Forbes. Its entire revenue that year was $1.2 billion. And CBS and Turner paid $804 million for the rights to televise March Madness through 2032.
The Power 5 may yet break away from the NCAA (fingers crossed), but such a scenario would be for football only. (It’s become an annual American rite for those colleagues of yours who otherwise pay college hoops no attention to squirm in delight over the prospect of East Vermont State-Middlebury upsetting Established Power U. And the good Lord help anyone who tries to take that away.)
Football ultimately is king in Arkansas, but basketball is a strong COO. It’s supported more strongly at no other SEC school outside of Kentucky. Forbes ranked college hoops programs by revenue from 2016-19, and the Hogs — still mired in a decade of mediocrity — finished 13th nationally with a three-year average revenue of $24.7 million and an average profit of $13.9 million.
UK topped the list at $56 million and $31.2 million — everyone knows that basketball rules the roost in the bluegrass state. Only one other SEC program made the top 20 — Alabama, at $19.3 million in three-year average revenue and $4.9 million in average profit.
But Eric Musselman has resurrected a slumbering giant, and season tickets were sold out for all games this season in the mammoth 19,000-plus Bud Walton Arena for the first time in 20 years.
This month’s AMP includes a look at Musselman’s third Hog team, one ranked 16th in the preseason and picked to finish third in an improving SEC.
And the football team is pointed very much in the right direction under Sam Pittman. Once upon a time, Arkansas was a top 10 fixture in football and basketball, often simultaneously. And then there’s baseball, always good under Norm DeBriyn but now a consistent monster under Dave Van Horn — not to mention the across-the-board success throughout Arkansas athletics.
It feels a little retro on the Hill these days. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while.